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To The Parents of Young Alcoholics and Addicts: There is Help, It’s Just Not Pretty

I write a lot about my life now, more than twenty years into recovery from a seemingly helpless state as a drunk, but I usually do so with an attempt at a humorous tilt to it. This post will be a little bit different as I cannot make the topic funny for parents who are dealing with kids in the middle of the disease.  If you’re reading this because you’re at your wit’s end, you already know…  It sucks.

My mom bore the emotional brunt of my actions as a young adult alcoholic. My dad, though he had stints of sobriety himself, was an alcoholic as well so not only did my mom have to deal with him, she had to deal with her eldest son turning into his father – only I was special. I spiraled out of control so fast that I never would have made it to my father’s age at my pace of degradation. The doctors said I might make it till I was 30 before my liver gave out.

Now I’m not about to tell parents how to treat their addict children.  First, I’m not so arrogant that I believe my way is the best or only way to handle things. In fact, I don’t even have “a way”.  What I can do though is share my experience and what worked for me hoping that it will help others, and I can promise you that this will not be easy, or pretty.

Last I heard, a whopping three percent of all who quit make it five years without a drink. The odds aren’t too good in other words. Now, once an alcoholic passes the threshold there are three options: recovery, institutionalism (prison, metal hospital) or death. There is scientific evidence, and I happen to be one of the cases, that suggests a percentage of young alcoholic’s bodies do not process alcohol the same as normal alcoholics… For some reason our livers just can’t keep up with the abuse so they shut down early. In my case, my liver enzymes were high enough to suggest that I was a 60 year-old chronic alcoholic at 21 years-old.  On top of that, I had “People of the State of Michigan vs. Me” problems.

I was thinking about giving my story from my mom’s perspective, but after the pre-history, why prolong the agony?  Suffice it to say that when my parents finally threw in the towel on me, I had them between a rock and a hard place…  They didn’t have many options left.

We alcoholics only understand devastating loss.  There isn’t a mystical reason for this and it certainly isn’t “because we want to get caught” or are “reaching out for help”…  That’s all bullshit meant to keep you from writing us off completely.  It’s “touchy-feely” hoo-hah.  The truth is, we think we’re master manipulators and we can get away with anything we want to.  When we get caught or busted, we know all we have to do is be nice for a minute and everything will be back to normal again so we can go back to our old way of doing things.  We are selfish, self-centered jerks and the only thing that matters to us is keeping the charade going.  It’s just that simple, so don’t go with the illusion that we’re deeper than that.  We’re not (women included).  Everything else is a manipulation to get you to feel sorry for us so you won’t kick us to the curb.  We need you to see us as victims.

The only way that my parents got me to pay attention was to cut me off, completely.  My last drunk driving had me in front of a judge and sentenced to treatment.  The deal was this:  “Go to treatment or you’re out on your own.  We’re done with you.  No more bailouts, no more staying  in our home, no more contact with the family.  Done”.  They tried everything they could think of short of that for two years prior and I just kept massaging the situation, trying to make things work out my way so I could get drunk again.  One drunk at a time.  That’s really as complex as we get.  All of the other drama we get from watching TV and movies – and don’t think we don’t use that to manipulate you.  I used to see little things in movies that would make my mom cry and use those situations against her whenever I could.  Same with my dad where necessary (though without the crying).

Now, look at your kids through that filter.  If my experience looks or sounds familiar, it’s likely that you’re being manipulated by your kid so they can keep their behavior going.  The only thing that worked with me was the final ultimatum.  Treatment or gone completely.  Coming to this conclusion won’t be easy and you’re going to need nerves of steel because your kid won’t give up without a very convincing fight.  They will be scared as hell that the gig is finally up so you’ll likely see tears, maybe even some anger, and a bunch of promises that your kid will fix things.  Don’t fall for it, stick to your guns.

Alcoholics like me react to one thing:  Pain.

In fact, out of all of the recovering drunks that I know (and I know a lot), not one of us quit on a winning streak.

Good luck and God bless.  I don’t envy you.  Just know that it could be worse…  After all of that, the only thing they’re trying to do is the one thing they know will make the pain stop – get drunk again to numb the sucky life that they created for themselves.    The sad part is that by the time they get to the point where you’re fed up, getting drunk doesn’t work anymore so they’re grasping at straws, trying to hold on for all they’re worth.